VANITY FAIR

3 Stars – Thought-Provoking

In 1828 William Makepeace Thackeray wrote the novel, “Vanity Fair.”  Written within the class-conscious struggle of England’s aristocracy, “Vanity Fair” exposes an ongoing problem within humanity.  Though we want to be treated as equals, we try to “break into” the upper classes of society by showing ourselves to be at least as worthy of belonging as is anyone else.  Yet those already in those classes, either by birth or by economic achievement, want to keep others beneath them out so that they can be assured of the superiority their “first class” lifestyles imply.  This dual struggle is especially present in England, but it is in fact a reality even in egalitarian cultures where royalty and titles were never a part of the society, such as here in the United States. 

The vanity is found not only in our attempts to lift ourselves and/or keep others down, but in the vanity of such an enterprise at all.  Those who are born into the upper class eventually lose interest in their privileged lives.  Trying to find meaning in the collection of things and people, this soon becomes an empty game that is more of a bore than a satisfaction.

Attempting to find meaning in love, the difficulty of finding true love is all the more apparent when one does not know what love is or how one finds it.  Even when it is achieved, it is not recognized.  This is found in the two central characters of Mira Nair’s film version of Thackeray’s novel.

The two meet when the woman, Becky Sharp (Reese Witherspoon), is only a girl.  Having lost her mother, she lives with her father who is a struggling painter.  She first meets The Marquess of Steyne (Gabriel Byrne) when he comes to buy her father’s portrait of her mother.  Their poverty forces them to sell the precious work.  Though separated in age and class, neither Becky nor the Marquess know how to love.

 Becky is soon orphaned and sent to work in a school where she works as a servant but also takes classes to become a lady.  With a beauty that is enchanting, Becky nevertheless has difficulty loving.  When she is wed to the charming Capt. Rawdon Crawley (James Purefoy), his love for gambling and her love for the social scene is a good partnership.  But when he goes through hard times and Becky is befriended by the Marquess, she plays a desperate game to both gain access to the upper class, a gift the Marquess can give, and take his financial loans to survive.  It is a bargain that costs her greatly.

The Marquess, on the other hand, doesn’t realize that his manipulation of Becky to try and win her is anything but loving.  Explaining that he wants “True Love” as he attempts to force Becky into intimacy, it is clear that he understands neither the nature of love nor Becky’s faithfulness to her husband.

The struggle to find meaning in life is not found in the vain struggles of social climbing or financial success.  It is found when people experience and treasure the love that God modeled them to have.

Discussion:

  1. Although Rawdon’s aunt loves bawdy novels and encourages socially rebellious behavior in Rawdon and Becky, she then removes him from her will when they actually marry.  When questioned on this inconsistency, she explains that “you don’t do such things in real life.”  How often do you think we “entertain” certain behaviors as “entertainment” and then are appalled when our children live it?
  2. The manipulation of the relationship by the Marquess was the only way he knew how to court Becky.  What do you think would have made his life different?  Why did his wife cry during Becky’s song?
  3. Why do you think the people at the school were so mean to Becky?  Why was her friend Amelia (Romola Garai) so nice to her?  Was Becky a “good girl” or not? 
  4. In the end, Becky went to India with Amelia’s brother.  What do you think their life would have been like if they had married from the beginning and not allowed George Osborne (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) to snobbishly manipulate them and their budding relationship?
Posted on June 1, 2011 and filed under 3 STARS, THOUGHT-PROVOKING.